RaveThe Wall Street JournalSurprisingly—and rather brilliantly—more than half of Mr. Melillo’s book is not about monarchs or mosquitoes but about creatures far less relatable, though they have been part of our lives for centuries ... Mr. Melillo is a witty and eloquent guide through the fraught terrain of human-insect interactions, able to write as lucidly about the white-eyed mutant fruitfly as the four movements of Serenade in A (1925), which Igor Stravinsky custom-composed for 10-inch shellac records, a three-minute movement per side. Mr. Melillo is at his most inspiring, however, when he exalts the scientists who have rejected the view that there’s little in the world of insects to remind us of our own.
Nicholas A Basbanes
RaveThe Wall Street JournalNicholas Basbanes’s superbly sympathetic Cross of Snow is not, as his publisher claims, the first major Longfellow biography to appear in 50 years...But it is, perhaps, the biography Longfellow himself would have most liked to read. Absorbing the underlying message of Longfellow’s poetry, Mr. Basbanes writes about him the way a friend would, with generosity, gentleness and grace ... Mr. Basbanes never pummels his sources into revealing more than they will yield ... Buoyed by Mr. Basbane’s palpable enthusiasm over his discoveries, the reader feels warmly invited to enter the author’s charmed circle of friendship ... [focuses] much of his book on Longfellow’s far less buttoned-up second wife, the brilliant Fanny Appleton, daughter of one of the richest men in New England ... Mr. Basbanes’s singular achievement in Cross of Snow is to bring this remarkable woman back to life. He writes about her the way Longfellow would have, with respect, admiration and, yes, a lover’s eye. But he is also happy to let Fanny speak for herself ... Mr. Basbanes’s book, marvelously rich in biographical detail, has only limited space for the poetry. But much remains to be discovered there
Patrik Svensson, Trans. by Agnes Broomé
RaveThe Wall Street Journal...[a] captivating debut, congenially translated by Agnes Broomé ... Tinged with melancholy ... The Book of Eels is, in the end, not really about eels but about life itself, and that makes it different from other recent books on the subject. Mr. Svensson mixes chapters about the eel’s natural history—or, rather, the history of clumsy human attempts to understand it—with finely observed autobiographical vignettes devoted to his own childhood memories of eel-fishing with his father. From these memories, saturated with intense, sensory detail, Mr. Svensson’s father emerges as a creature as magical and determined as any eel from the Sargasso Sea ...In a way, Mr. Svensson’s book is another version of his father’s cabin, full of stories and of a size just right, the size only memory and love can make: a place where secrets will always remain secrets and grief dissolves into the shimmering waters of the lake outside, the author’s own Sargasso Sea, forever stocked with shiny eels, all within easy reach—yet not.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalWhat a delightful book, and what a delightfully provocative title ... a memoir masking as a biography ... Incongruously but very effectively, Ms. Miller’s book interweaves often intimate details from her own life, including a failed suicide attempt, with milestones from David Starr Jordan’s sheer unstoppable ascent to professional glory ... Leavened by a healthy dose of self-irony, Ms. Miller wields this familiar format with panache, spinning a tale so seductive that I read her book in one sitting.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... thoroughly engrossing, meticulously researched and well-illustrated ... Despite the book’s title, there are no fairy-tale heroes in it, which testifies to the subtlety of Mr. Hochschild’s narrative imagination ... There is indeed a literary intensity to much of Rebel Cinderella, and Mr. Hochschild is as excellent at invoking such personal confrontations as he is at summarizing, with epigrammatic clarity, complex historical developments ... Mr. Hochschild reminds us of the continuing disparity between the rich and the poor in modern U.S. society. But his book is not a cautionary tale; if there is anything to be learned from the broken lives of Rose Pastor and Graham Phelps Stokes, it’s that being human is a messy business. Of Mr. Hochschild’s two main characters, the uncharismatic Graham with his unearned wealth, less prince than princeling, bold enough to marry Rose and too conventional to tolerate her independence, perhaps seems the more familiar figure today. By contrast, Rose, more rebel than Cinderella, gloriously passionate even when she was wrong, belongs to another, fiercer time.
Gunnar Decker, Trans. by Peter Lewis
PositiveThe Weekly StandardFor Gunnar Decker, a supremely empathetic biographer, the fact that Hesse wasn’t particularly pleasant to be with is a challenge rather than a problem. A master of biographical ventriloquism, he peppers his prose, congenially translated by Peter Lewis, with frequent exclamation marks meant to signal agreement with his crotchety subject and delivers pages of indirect interior monologue that would have done Flaubert or Zola proud, ranging from the basic (\'What was he to do?\') to the philosophically elevated (\'How could he ever turn this chaos into an order that he trusted?\') ... Decker’s goal is to make us like Hesse, and the fact that he almost succeeds is a testament to his skill.
PanThe Wall Street JournalCharles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker is less a biography than an indictment of a man he finds wanting in so many respects that the reader wonders how Mr. Wilson could stand spending so much time writing about him … In Mr. Wilson’s hands, Darwin is the veritable snake in the garden of cultural history, a corrupter of minds who deserves to be seen clearly for what he always was: a footnote in the history of science … At first I found reading Mr. Wilson’s laundry list of offenses strangely addictive, like studying the ‘Wanted’ posters that hang in the Post Office. As I carried on, however, pleasure slowly gave way to annoyance. Mr. Wilson’s scientific misunderstandings, of which there are many, seem to come straight out of the creationist playbook.